Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

NGAUS Conference Builds Families, Friendships

National Guard Officer and spouse have some down time to unwind early in the evening at the barbeque mixer at Austin's Schultz Beer Garden during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference.
National Guard Officer and spouse have some down time to unwind early in the evening at the barbeque mixer at Austin's Schultz Beer Garden during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference.

 

The National Guard Association of the United States supports Guardsmen across the country with advocacy efforts and standard of living improvements. This week's general conference for the association, held in Austin, Texas, brought together not just the service members, but also their spouses. While the association members enjoyed mixers, banquets, exhibits and professional meetings, their loved ones enjoyed shopping excursions and bonding events.

With events scheduled specifically for spouses, the conference enabled these dedicated family members to network with one another, develop a strong support system, and build lasting friendships.

The spouse shopping excursions to San Antonio, San Marcos, Austin and Fredericksburg offered participants the opportunity to see the colorful cultures of Texas, rich with Hispanic culture.

"I love it," said Gina Welch, the wife of Army Maj. Wyatt Welch and mother of three, from Bowling Green, Virginia. "I always look forward to attending these events. It is somewhat of a getaway." 

Nearly 200 spouses traveled to San Antonio for a day of sightseeing, shopping, and Texas history. The city's beautiful Riverwalk and the famous Alamo provided much-needed decompression and morale boosts to the busy participants looking to share an adventure. 

Pat Wilkinson chose the San Antonio excursion "to learn something about the history of the Alamo."

In addition to the bonding excursions, the spouses enjoyed the special opportunity to build a strong support system as members of NGAUS. Spouses are able to learn from one another's experiences and struggles by knowing that there are many other people on whom they can rely. 

Further, the conference affords family members education possibilities that foster support and trust for their service member and the service member's duty. For NGAUS and its representatives, becoming knowledgeable of the intricacies of the military lifestyle comes first in supporting a community of troops.

"We know it's not just the military member that serves," said Texas State Senator Leticia Van De Putte. "It's the entire family."

The senator encouraged her audience to support their spouses' call for duty, sharing an anecdote about how her great-grandmother showed love and support for her grandfather and great-uncle.

"My great-grandmother said that if her two sons return from World War II safely that she would go on her knees from her house to the church on Thanksgiving. She was from Mexico, it's very traditional to do these promesas, these promises." 

Military associations like NGAUS ensure the families and the livelihoods of servicemembers remain a priority throughout the nation. Building strong bonds of community and friendship, the conference continues to guide and enrich the lives and careers of Guardsmen from the newest lieutenants to the most experienced of generals. 

"Every [conference] get's better and better," said Jean Dobaschi, from Hawaii. "NGAUS has played a very critical role in my life and in my husband's life. We've been able to make friends across the country; friends that will be lifetime friends forever."

Industries support National Guard, bring new technologies for troops

A group of Backpack Journalists take some photos Aug. 22 on an expedition to the Texas Army National Guard airfield during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference in Austin, Texas.
A group of Backpack Journalists take some photos Aug. 22 on an expedition to the Texas Army National Guard airfield during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference in Austin, Texas.

 

 Story by  Spc. Suzanne Carter

 A mariachi band struck up a song as Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga snipped the red ribbon  stretched across the entrance in two. The doors to the exhibit hall swung open Aug. 21, marking the official opening of  the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference exhibit hall at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas.

 Army and Air National Guard officers and their spouses from across the U.S. and its territories flooded the exhibit hall  floor for three days, interacting with more than 400 vendors. The exhibitors showed their support for the Guard by  demonstrating a variety of products and services, while conference attendees told vendors directly what they needed.

 Mark Saturno, Simulation Systems Division business development director for Cubic Defense Applications in Orlando,  Fla., said that the NGAUS convention is not the place to make sales, but a place to show support and appreciation for  the National Guard and its mission.

 "We have been dealing with the Guard for about a dozen years with our products," Saturno said. "The Guard has been  very supportive of our company and our products, so we want to come out and show our support for the Guard."

 With products ranging from combat training simulators to portable latrine devices and services from continuing  education programs to custom coin and tag manufacturing, the exhibit hall offered officers of all ranks the most up-to-  date technology, equipment and services available to their Guardsmen.

 "There's a lot of new technology," said Guam Air National Guard Capt. Josephine Blas. "As you know, technology  changes quickly, every day, so whatever they have that can help improve what we do for ourselves, for our troops, it's  always great to see what they have."

 By interacting with the vendors, attendees can discuss what improvements they want to see to best service their home  units.

 "It's an incredible opportunity for junior leaders to interact directly with folks in the industry," said Oregon Army National  Guard Capt. Jonathan R. Tipton. "We can explain to them what we need, what we like and what we'd like to see  happen." 

 Vendors in the exhibit hall said they use the feedback they receive to help guide the futures of their products and  services as they relate to the National Guard.

"We talk to everybody from soldiers all the way up to the adjutant general about what the needs are for the Guard, where the Guard is trying to go," said Arthur C. Wright, business development and marketing manager for the Washington-Harris Group, a health services and information technology group from Greenbelt, Md. "If we don't know where they're trying to go and what their needs are, we won't know what services we need to provide."

Exhibitors also said they enjoyed hearing from the family members in attendance as much as the officers.

"The Guard is certainly very family-oriented," said Cora Jackson-Chandler, the Management Support Technology vice president of Defense Department programs, a research, evaluation and planning company from Fairfax, Va. "Because we do some work in the areas of sustaining, training, life-cycle support and transition of soldiers, it's good to hear from the family members."

Jackson-Chandler went on to say that having this interaction with the servicemembers and their families helps give her the full perspective of everyone who needs her company's services.

After a year of planning, a week of set-up and three days of marketing and networking, Exhibit Promotions Plus Director of Business Development Kevin M. Horowitz praised the conference for making available so many resources to which military leaders might otherwise not have exposure.

"They don't know what products and services are out there and what's available and what's the most modern technology," Horowitz said. "They need to see it, feel it, touch it, use it."

'Texans Observe Memorial Day with March For Fallen Heroes'

Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola leads the fourth annual March for Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 29.
Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola leads the fourth annual March for Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 29.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 AUSTIN, Texas -- While much of the country observed Memorial Day weekend with barbeques, sports and gatherings,  a small band of patriots came together on a hot Texas afternoon and marched almost seven miles in honor of their  fallen comrades.

 The fourth annual Texas March for Fallen Heroes, held Saturday, May 29, brought together families, servicemembers  and veterans for a four-hour event to remember and recognize the ultimate sacrifices of those who lost their lives in the  global war on terror. 

 "Today I'm here because it's a great event and we want to honor some of the Soldiers that we've lost over time," said  Army Master Sgt. Laurie B. Armstrong of Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. 

 The event's architect, Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola, drew his inspiration after reading an article in the Guard  Experience Magazine. 

"It was about a Tennessee Guardsmen walking nine miles in honor of the Soldiers who passed away in his unit in Iraq," Mendiola said. "I saw a picture of [him] walking around with a rucksack with a flag behind it and that immediately caught my attention."

For the fourth time now, Mendiola has brought together patriots of all backgrounds to honor and celebrate their revered heroes. Up from three dozen last year, this year's march grew to 45 servicemembers, veterans and family members.

"I'm here to honor my nephew," said Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jose Calderon. "He died in '04; he was in the Marine Corps."

Calderon, who served in the Texas Army National Guard until 2001, had another reason for marching alongside bearers of the T-patch, the emblem of 36th Infantry Division. 

"I used to be part of the brigade," he said, "but back then it was 49th Armor."

Master Sgt. Armstrong wore her own significant patch for the occasion.

"The Red River 44 Patch. We were moving from Kuwait to Iraq and one of our Chinooks went down. We lost seven Soldiers that day; one of them was a really good friend of ours, CW2 Corey Edwards. We had [the patches] made while we were overseas and it just kinda spread around and everyone started wearing them. A little something to honor them."

Joined by her husband, warrant officer David S. Putman, she marched the full route for her fallen comrades in reverent esteem for their service and sacrifice. 

For this year's event, Mendiola reflected on how important something as simple as marching can be and how far-reaching its presence can be felt.

"We can actually make an impact on the community," he said. "It's open to all branches, all walks of life. I can only expect this thing to grow each and every year."

Patriots Swear in as US Citizens at American Heroes Celebration

Service members from four branches and seven states swear-in as citizens at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration
Service members from four branches and seven states swear-in as citizens at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 "Patriotism is voluntary," said former Seaman and politician Jesse Ventura. "It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that  is the result of knowledge and belief."

 One could not find greater patriotism than from the servicemembers who valiantly serve a country of which they are not  citizens. For 15 such veterans, that changed on Saturday, April 17 when the Honorable Lee Yeakel opened a special  session of the US District Court to swear in these incomparable volunteers as US citizens. 

 The ceremony, held during Camp Mabry's 4th annual American Heroes Celebration, took place in front of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Traveling Wall. The wall, which is a precise replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington,  D.C., offered a somber and reverent setting for this significant occasion. 

 "I can think of no more appropriate place for this," said Retired Lt. Col. Donald R. Allen, CEO of the AVTT, who also  served as the distinguished guest speaker for the event. "Our history has taught us that we were founded on the  principle of freedom at any cost."

 The newly immunized citizens came from 13 different countries, including Kenya, Mexico, Russia and Kazakhstan.  Their services included the US Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. The troops, ranging in ages from 19 to 39,  included four combat veterans and eight Texas residents.

 Army Spc. Victor A. Becerra, who was born in Mexico and raised in California, deployed to Iraq twice before even  becoming a citizen. A member of the 36th Infantry Division, he spent his second deployment to Iraq training their police force.

 "What we were doing was overseeing the training of 6th Iraqi division," he said, "to make sure that their forces were  properly trained so they could stand to protect the region that they were in charge of."

 Becerra always felt close to the nation for which he's served for years.

 "I've been an American since I first put on this uniform, ever since I started speaking the language," he said. "I feel just as proud to be a part of this country."

Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, commander of the Texas Military Forces, presented each new citizen with his coin and congratulated them on their achievement.

"It took maybe six to eight months," said Becerra. "That included the studying for the exam for the interview. It's good to know how this country has developed when it was founded back in the 18th century."

"They were defending and protecting and fighting for a country that they weren't even a citizen of," said Allen. "That, my friend, is a true measure of patriotism, these are great patriots. We should be very proud that as a country, there are people that are willing to fight for us to become one of us."

Without a doubt, these brave service members have worked and devoted themselves to the fulfillment of a life of service.

"I've always been an American at heart," said Becerra. "But I could say that today, it's official; I am an American."

American Heroes Re-Enactment Brings History to Life

Period actors reenact a World War II battle at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration
Period actors reenact a World War II battle at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego 

 The Muster Day reenactment brings to life a time in America's history when the nation was a member of the Allied forces  fighting against Germany in World War II. The annual event, put on by the Brig. Gen. John C. L. Scribner Texas Military  Forces Museum, took place at Camp Mabry in Austin during The 2010 American Heroes Celebration, held April 17 and 18.

 Throughout the two-day reenactment, the period actors camped out in the field in authentic tents.

 "I have been inspired by WWII history since I was a child and my father, who is a WWII veteran," said Matt Rayson,  portraying a field medic in the 36th Infantry Division. 

 G Company, 36th Infantry Division, the main body of the reenactment, along with other living history groups and military  vehicle collectors, built the battlefield and campgrounds of the American Division and their German counterparts. The battlefield was filled with simulated dragons' teeth, barbed wired, bombed out buildings and military pyrotechnics. 

The goal was to remind people of what life was like for Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division in World War II, honor all veterans. The public was also educated on Texas military history with vehicles such as a Sherman Tank, M3 Halftrack, jeeps, German Hetzer, and Kubelwagens. The re-enactors also had authentic uniforms and weapons.

"Veterans appreciate [the re-enactors] being out there, veterans from the 36th have come by time to time," said John Reed, a 36th ID re-enactor. 

The event recreated the attack on the Siegfried Line in March 1945, which was the last line of defense the Germans had before the US entered Germany. 

With the Allied troops in the east tree line and Axis troops coming in by convoy, their encounter began the engagement. With shots fired from rifles and machine guns on both sides, the 36th ID slowly moved forward on the German bunkers and buildings. When the 36th's Sherman tank rolled onto the battlefield, the Germans quickly started using mortars and their own armored vehicles against the US troops. After the 40-minute battle, the 36th ID ended the skirmish by destroying the German headquarters. After the re-enactors performed a quick clean up of the battlefield, the spectators joined them on the field to collect and keep parts of the engagement as souvenirs. 

"If anything's my favorite, it's the old World War II tanks," said Daryl Reif, a spectator of the event. "I would love to see a tiger tank, but those are very hard to come by." 

Daryl, who has attended the event for four years straight, enjoys bringing his six-year-old son each time. "It keeps getting better every year."

Search and Rescue Dogs Help to Entertain, Educate Public

Hernandez holds on as Miletonde subdues a tricky suspect
Hernandez holds on as Miletonde subdues a tricky suspect.

 

Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter

AUSTIN, Texas - "We wouldn't put a dog in a tree in a search event," said Casey E. England of Travis County Search and Rescue. "But we might have a reason for why we would need to put a dog in a harness and raise him up a cliff face."

England and Megan E. Kazda, also of Travis County Search and Rescue, prepared AJ, a Labrador mix, for a rappelling demonstration as part of the search and rescue dog event at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry in Austin. The exhibitions, held April 17, showcased the discipline and skills of search and rescue and police dogs. 

"We all practice rope safety and rappelling," AJ's handler Sean D. Glynn said about his search team. "You also want to get the dogs used to being rappelled down.

"This is part of the initial training where you're just getting them used to being comfortable suspended and moving in a vertical environment," Glynn continued. "I'm going to give him some pieces of bread, and he's going to associate this happy feeling.

"Some dogs, they might scramble at first," Glynn said, while content AJ dangled in his harness from the tree above. "As soon as they get used to being up there, they're just suspended and hanging out." 

"It's cool because he could save me," said Sophie Beilinton, 9, as she reached out to pet the dog after his safe return to the ground.

Despite a light rain earlier that day, dogs from Austin Police Department Search and Rescue and Travis County Sheriff's K-9 Unit also demonstrated their special skills. 

Matthew W. McDermott, a volunteer with APD Search and Rescue through K-9 Search, began the demonstrations with a word about safety.

"We get out there and we talk to the kids about what to do if they get lost, how to use their heads," he said. "The main thing you want them to know is to stay in one place. Doesn't matter if they're in the woods or if they're in the mall. ... Grab on to something, like a garbage can."

McDermott performed an evidence demonstration with his 11-year old Australian Shepherd mix, Willa. Sniffing out a glove hidden in a row of boxes, Willa lay down when she caught the scent.

"This is her trained alert," McDermott said as he described techniques Willa uses to let him know she's found her target.

Travis County Sheriff's K-9 Unit showcased their dogs' discipline and focus. Deputy Mike Stanley walked his German Shepherd, Tex, across the parade field. Tex did not hesitate or take his attention off his handler. 

German Shepherd Ryker and Deputy Jo A. Carson apprehended "unsavory character," Stanley, in a bite suit. Deputy Gilbert A. Hernandez and Meliton, another German Shepherd, pulled a stubborn suspect from his vehicle in a demonstration new to the celebration. 

Though police dogs move fast, they do not move with the intent to injure. Ryker and Meliton followed their training and released their suspects when they stopped resisting.

"We spend about 10 hours a day training new dogs," Hernandez said. "Of course it's not 10 hours straight, but we start with obedience and work up from there."

Hernandez said, though Travis County owns them, "essentially, they are our dogs. We spend 10 hours a day in the car while we're working, and then they go home with us. ... It's a 24-hour-a-day job pretty much."

The amount of time these K-9 handlers spend with their dogs creates an intense bond. McDermott pointed this out when he compared search and rescue dogs to police dogs.

"Ours are friendly, lick-your-face dogs," he said. "Theirs aren't. Theirs are trained for protection. They'll take a bullet for their officer if they have to."

While families love seeing the dogs in action, McDermott said the celebration gives search and rescue teams an opportunity to inform people about the dogs, their training and their jobs.

"We love being out here," he said. "The thing I like about it the most is the recognition we get as a team. I'm often amazed at how many folks don't know that Austin even has a search and rescue team."

State Conference Offers Service members Information, Opportunities, Connections

Soldiers read about new troop transport vehicles
Soldiers read about new troop transport vehicles

 

 Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter

 "Someone asks me, 'How did you get here?' I try to be nice and say, 'I took a plane,'" said senior enlisted advisor for the  Texas Military Forces Command Sgt. Maj. Juan G. Morales.

 After the laughter died down, Morales continued to say that no obstacle kept him from achieving his goals. 

 "I was born in Puerto Rico, but raised in America," he said. "I speak 'Spanglish,' ... that never stopped me."

 A small group of junior enlisted Soldiers and Airmen listened intently as Morales detailed the keys to a successful  military career.

 "Be the person who always has a question," he said. "Be a leader, be the one in front and do research."

The Junior Enlisted Forum, lead by Morales, was part of the 4th Annual Joint Texas Military Affairs Conference held at the Austin Convention Center, March 26-28. The forum allowed Soldiers and Airmen to ask senior NCOs questions about career development.

The conference was a joint venture, combining three different, events: the Joint Commanders Conference, the Family Readiness Conference, and the 51st Annual Conference of the National Guard Association of Texas.

From breakfast to lunch and on through dinner Friday and Saturday, service members of the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guard ran into old friends and made new ones. Families of servicemembers connected faces with names.

"It's a good place to see people you haven't seen for awhile," said Marline Schloari, a conference volunteer from Grand Prairie, Texas. "I've met a lot of Soldiers and officers when we've had those [family readiness] trainings. They know you've done that training, but they don't know who you belong to. When they see you here with your spouse ... it clicks."

The conference boasted a fun run and relay races for service members' families on Friday, as well as a golf tournament at Star Ranch, a Texas Hold'em Poker tournament, wine tastings, karaoke, and dancing.

Kids participated in the Family Readiness Group's Youth Symposium, where they played games, listened to live music and learned what to do when their parents deploy.

Soldiers, Airmen and Guardsmen, along with their families, strolled through aisles of vendor booths that filled the convention center's exhibit hall. Others bid on baskets filled with treats at the silent auction, proceeds to benefit NGAT.

The booths offered services, products and information for Texas Military Forces service members and their families. One booth displayed new tactical gear.

"We have a lot more visible stuff to actually go touch and see what our husbands may or may not get to use," said Schloari. "The latest equipment is out there. Or if it's not, they can say, 'Hey, we need that. Can you get us that?'"

Schloari enjoyed browsing the line of body protection and armored vehicles.

"They've come out with some really good stuff," she said. "I'm really excited about the protection factor that they've got."

Other booths offered families information about support opportunities during deployments.

"Now that I'm seeing all the information we're giving to family members, there's just so much," said Elizabeth Vega, secretary for the Family Readiness Group. 

She said that during her husband's first deployment, Vega did not know about the support available to her and her two children. The array of information available at the conference confirmed that no Soldier stands alone and neither do their families.

"All you have to do is just walk in the door and ask one person," Vega said. "If that person doesn't know, they can tell you where to find the answer, ... there is no stupid question." 

Texas Military Forces leaders gathered Saturday afternoon to conduct business as part of the Joint Commanders Conference.

During FRG's family programs, leaders deployed with the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team joined the forum via teleconference to answer family members' questions about their troops in Iraq. The FRG also hosted a variety of question and answer panels through their Family Readiness Program Conference.

Texas State Guard members broke away from the crowd on Saturday to discuss duty and share camaraderie as citizen soldiers.

"Service," exclaimed Col. Dennis O'Driscol, 8th Regt. commander, when asked what motivates these Citizen Soldiers. "Before I joined, I just thought that surely there was something I can do to help. We are here as support to civilian and military authorities."

Texas Military Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga marveled at the Guardsmen who sat before him.

"Do you want this job," he asked. "If you join us, you get to pay for your own uniforms, boots, travel and lodging. You only get paid $121 a day when the governor activates us. And here you all are. You can't buy that kind of dedication."

With 1,700 members, said Mayorga, the Texas State Guard responds to natural disasters like hurricanes, provides border patrol support, and controls new communication technology for Texas Military Forces, without the possibility of deployment.

"It's Texans serving Texas," O'Driscol said. "And it doesn't take long to know we're making a difference."

While the conference teemed with useful information, service members and their families took much more than that home. Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy L. Broyles, Sgt Maj. of the Texas Army National Guard, offered encouraging words to service members as they pursue their goals.

"Work hard," he said. "Do what you're supposed to do, and you'll get anywhere you want to go."

ESGR Conference Honors Employers, Service members

Representatives of  the six employment agencies honored at the 2010 ESGR awards banquet stand with their Pro Patria Award.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 The Employer Support of The Guard and Reserve recognized the outstanding efforts of one such support system at its  annual conference, held March 25 and 26 at the Radisson Hotel & Suites in Austin, Texas. 

 The event honored six Texas employers with the distinguished Pro Patria award for celebrated appreciation of their  guard and reserve employees.

 Tyler Sieswerda, news anchor for ABC-affiliate KVUE-TV in Austin, served as the Master of Ceremonies for the awards  banquet Thursday night.

 "Pro patria is a latin term," Sieswerda said, "meaning for one's country. One of ESGR's missions is to recognize those  employers who excel at supporting their employees serving in the Guard and Reserve."

 Recipients included the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, Lubbock County Sheriff's Office, Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, TaxMasters, Inc., Tesoro Corporation and Texas Engineering Extension Service. All awardees are Five Start employers, having already received an Above and Beyond Award and special recognition for individual supervisors.

Dr. Jerry D. Icenhower, Chairman of the Texas Committee for ESGR, Ms. Pauline K. Brunelli, Acting Executive Director for ESGR, and Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, Commander of the Texas Military Forces collectively presented the awards to the representatives from each recipient agency.

"This year these outstanding organizations join the ranks of dedicated patriots who have supported our Citizen-Soldiers as they honorably fulfilled the call to duty to serve their state and nation," said Mayorga.

Employers awarded stood out for their commitment to their activated workforce. Support efforts included continuation of employment benefits during deployments or training missions, paid military leave, care packages and goodwill checks for families of deployed servicemembers, farewell and welcome home celebrations, hiring preferences and reintegration upon return from duty.

Also honored at the banquet was Col. (retired) Dwain James, recipient of the Order of St. Maurice Award, commonly called the Infantry Medal.

"The Order of St. Maurice Award," said Icenhower, "recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to the Infantry and demonstrates the highest standards of integrity and moral character."

Maj. Gen. Michael Ferrier, chief of infantry, presented the award to ames for his years of dedicated service and excellence both within the Infantry and ESGR.

It wrapped up the two day conference with a special tribute to the city of Austin, recipient of the ESGR Prominence Award.

Reinstituted in 2008, the Prominence Award recognizes the highest service an employer can bestow upon its workforce.


"The city of Austin," said Icenhower, "is receiving the Prominence Award for being one of America's leading employers in managing and caring for its employees serving in the Guard and Reserve. Austin is only the third Texas employer to receive this award."

Previously, Austin had received every award available from ESGR and the Secretary of Defense.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell accepted the award on behalf of the city.

"As a city government," said Leffingwell, "we are committed to go above and beyond the minimum federal requirements to support our military employees. They play a key role in our continued success as a city, and we are deeply appreciative of both their service to our city and to their country."

The military community can only succeed when supportive and caring individuals commit to shared goals. For the National Guard and Reserves especially, these goals include the solid and collaborative efforts of employers, families and friends working together to sustain its uniformed members.

"We congratulate all of our honorees," said Icenhower, "and convey our deepest gratitude for their sacrifices and unwavering support to our men and women serving in the Guard and Reserve to protect our nation."

Austin Bridges International Divides with PA Conference

Story by: Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

Posted: February 26, 2010

Master Sgt. Daniel Griego Capt. Jolana Fedorkova, Capt. Jan Sulc, Capt. Miroslava Stenclova and 1st Lt. Denisa Smitalova, of the Czech Republic Armed Forces, look at some materials during the annual Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Conference.
Master Sgt. Daniel Griego
Capt. Jolana Fedorkova, Capt. Jan Sulc, Capt. Miroslava Stenclova and 1st Lt. Denisa Smitalova, of the Czech Republic Armed Forces, look at some materials during the annual Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Conference.

Scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell once said, "great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds." For the military public affairs practitioners of Texas, Chile, The Czech Republic, Puerto Rico and various U.S. states, this cooperation came in the form of the annual Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Conference.

Held Feb. 23-24, this international event presented a remarkable opportunity for military experts to share their experiences and values with each other in an open workshop environment. 

"Communication is what we do," said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda E. Moncada, Public Affairs Chief for the State Public Affairs Office. "The importance of doing that right cannot be overstated. Coming together this week with other communicators from other states and other countries gave us the opportunity to hone our skills and benchmark those ideas that have worked for others."

Activities for the two-day conference included public affairs presentations from the representatives, future mission planning, and discussions on the role of public affairs in military operations. Sharing creative briefings and video projects, the participants all learned new things about their international brethren. 

"What I find interesting," said Capt. Jan ŠULC, public affairs officer for the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces, "is that you are able to make the message serious but you can deal it in a funny way that's perfect. You will find the audience this way."

It wasn't all classroom discussion, as day two offered attendees a special tour of the Texas Military Forces Joint Operations Center via two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. 

Throughout the conference, all participants came to learn they had more in common in their military roles than they initially thought.

"The most important for me," said ŠULC, "is we are working on the same issues and we find similar challenges. You need to deal with internal public. You need to show how we are here for the public."

"Our job, our mission, is to help them," said Lt. Col. Pablo Müller Barberia, public affairs officer for the Department of Communications - Army, in Santiago, Chile. "We give peace, security and defense."

The conference, which capitalizes on the State Partnership Program pairing Texas and the Czech Republic in 1993 and Texas with Chile in May of 2009, reinforces the established strong bonds of training and cooperation.

In their almost 17 years of partnership, Texas and the Czech Republic have shared host duties, training opportunities and troop commitments in such exercises as medical certifications, combat instruction and F-16 aircraft demonstrations. 

In addition to the Czech and Chilean dignitaries, the conference also boasted a representative from the Puerto Rican Army National Guard.

"I get to network with more public affairs professionals in my field," said Staff Sgt. Luis E. Orengo, Operations NCO for the 113th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Orengo also serves as the public affairs specialist for the Puerto Rican National Guard, working directly for the Adjutant General of Puerto Rico.

"I'm very glad," said Orengo. "Having this kind of experience that bonds us together gives us also the freedom of mind to do our stuff and you have somebody to rely on. If I have a problem now, I have the confidence to call Col. Meehan or anybody here."

Beyond attending the conference as a public affairs practitioner, Orengo also served as translator for the Chilean team.

Attendees, during their week-long stay in the country, also got the opportunity to explore central and south Texas, visiting Austin, San Marcos and San Antonio.

"It's a good experience for me," said Müller. "This my first time in Austin; it's a great city."

"First time for me not only in Texas, but also the U.S.A.," said ŠULC. "It was really beneficial for me."

Having enjoyed the journey and contacts made, our international partners look forward to sending their peers and comrades to future goodwill events.

"I think that it will also be important for my colleagues," said ŠULC, "to have the chance to come next time."

With fresh contacts made and old friendships renewed, this year's conference successfully sustained the benevolent relationships that will only continue to grow.

"We were delighted to welcome our State Partnership Program partners from Chile and the Czech Republic," said Moncada, "and hope that they enjoyed themselves as much as we did."

Communities Enjoy 3rd Annual Oktoberfest

 

Story by Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

CAMP SWIFT, Texas- The sounds of local bands, helicopters and children's laughter rose up into a bright blue sky as the military and local communities came together during the 3rd Annual Oktoberfest here at Camp Swift on Saturday, Oct. 17. Highlights of the event included military demonstrations, local vendors, musicians, children's activities and the Volksmarch, a non-competitive distance walk through the woods in the Camp Swift training areas.

During the opening ceremonies, Texas Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga welcomed the citizens of the surrounding cities, as well as Soldiers and families. Stressing the close relationship the residents of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville have with the Soldiers training at Camp Swift, Mayorga stated it simply and clearly, "we are part of the community and the community is part of us."

Bastrop Mayor Terry Orr made it clear the city of Bastrop supports the Texas Military Forces. We have "been endeavoring to become known as a 'soldier-friendly town'," said Orr, by working with Camp Swift and the local chamber of commerce to welcome the local military presence. 

Highlighting some of the equipment Texas Military Forces use during both peace- and war-time operations, Soldiers from the 143rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment performed an airborne demonstration, jumping from Texas Army National Guard Chinook helicopters. After two Apache attack helicopters did a low-altitude fly-by, more Soldiers from the 143rd LRS, completed an "air assault" to deliver a walking stick to General Mayorga, kicking off the annual Volksmarch. 

For some, this was the closest they had ever been to the helicopters. "This is great," said Shandra Wilcox, an Austin resident. Her seven-year-old son, Jaris, "is helicopter-crazy," said Wilcox. For Jaris, the "chance to see [the helicopters] up close was just a great thing for him and all he could talk about on the way here." 

Supporting the local community and the military in a slightly different fashion, the animals from the Capital of Texas Zoo in Cedar Creek attracted adults and kids alike. Mo, the camel, was a striking sight under the oak trees and many children bravely held out pellets of feed in their hands to feed him. "This is a labor of love," said Carl Smith, Mo's handler. The zoo comes out every year to support the military "because it's a great organization." 

For others, the chance to take a look at a bit of history, both in the Texas Military Forces museum displays and in Camp Swift itself, was a big draw. "My uncle was in the Army in Vietnam," said Lorena Marquez, "but he lives in California and I never really got to see the stuff he used, so it's neat to be able to look at all the old equipment and think that he might have used some of it."

"I can remember coming out here at Swift for training, years ago," said Max Nelson, a Texas National Guard veteran. "I don't remember having this much fun, though," he said, "since I think it was raining the last time I was out here."

Vendors and informational booths lined the walkways, distributing both products and information.

"This is way more stuff available for Soldiers and their families than when I was in," said Mr. Nelson. "I learned more walking around here today than I thought I would."

"We understand the strength our Soldiers provide," said Mayor Marc Holm, from the city of Elgin. "We are very proud to partner with the military personnel at Camp Swift," he said. "We are a family and we want to make sure we all have the same closeness and respect for each other. We know it's going to be a great annual event."